[A-Z] Y is for Yaar!

pirates-of-THE-caribbean-logoSo, every year there is the Northern California Pirate Festival over in Vallejo. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s good fun. You know, the usual: pillaging, looting, setting fire to things, general villainy, and good music. Actually, the main thing I hear is that it’s basically a good excuse to spend a day drinking. It sounds like fun to me. Of course I like pirates just as much as the next day ever since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out and the first Talk Like a Pirate Day was celebrated. I haven’t written any pirate stories (though I’ve started one), but I’ve had them in some of the Dungeons and Dragons games that I’ve run. In that sense, pirates are fun. I’ve just never been to the festival.

But people I know who have been tell me that it reminds them a lot of the old Renaissance Pleasure Faire: lots of people, lots of food, lots of actors interacting with the customers, and lots of opportunities to spend money.

Did I ever tell you that I used to work at the Renaissance Faire? I did, back when it was in Black Point Forest near Novato in northern California. I was a street actor with St. Swithin’s, the Mongers Guild. As a Monger, I would affect the persona of a tinker who would offer to fix any broken items that the customers might have. Later on, I took on the mantel of barber surgeon, which was a lot more fun because I could interact with customers even more loudly and closely. I also participated in Pye Powder Court, a stage act where people would bring outrageous claims before a judge who would decide on a verdict and render a punishment.

Good times. I miss them. I made a number of great friends and enjoyed myself tremendously. It’s been about two decades, but I still get short of breath thinking of the march up and down Cardiac Hill where the actors camped at night, I remember the smell of the specialty vinegar stand at the base of Cardiac Hill. I remember the cups of chai we would get each morning before warming up for the day’s activities.  It was hot, dusty, smelly work, and I loved it.

Years ago, the Faire lost its lease at Black Point Forest, which ended up being sold to a developer who turned it into a golf course (one reason why I don’t play golf to this day — sheer vengeance). Now, the Faire is located in some locale too far away for me to make on a weekly basis, and I haven’t been to one in years. I’ve been to the Dickens Faire in Oakland, which is a lot of fun and is run by the same people, I understand, but it just doesn’t have the same feel.

And I doubt the Northern California Pirate Festival would have the same feel as well. Like so many other periods of my life, my memories of the Renaissance Faire are tied to specific people and places, and I’d rather keep those memories intact rather than try to recreate them.

On the other hand, the chance to hang out with over two thousand costumed pirates does sound kind of fun…

Yo ho, yo ho, an A-Z Blogging Challenge for me!

[A-Z] U is for Ukulele

I’m behind on the A-Z blogging challenge. Woefully so. Partially because I’ve been busy; sometimes I write my blog posts during my breaks at work, but lately work has been so busy that I haven’t been able to take breaks. And my evenings have been busy as well, what with my writers’ group and other commitments (that television won’t watch itself, after all). Plus, I just haven’t been sure what to write. So today I decided I was going to use the letter U, and put a call out on Twitter and Facebook for words that begin with U. One response (from my sister) was Ukulele, so that’s the word I chose.

I don’t really have that many thoughts about ukuleles. I like the way they sound when played well. They seem to be popular, especially among nerds, but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because of Molly Lewis or Garfunkel and Oates.

I thought briefly about learning how to play the ukulele. There are several musical instruments I’ve thought briefly about learning how to play. When I was young, I took piano lessons, but they wMV5BMjA3NDUyMDA1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM3NDI0Mg@@._V1_SY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_ere at the same time as my favorite Saturday morning television show, Land of the Lost. This, by the way, is a show that does not hold up upon watching as an adult. Even with scripts by notables such as Larry Niven, Ben Bova, David Gerrold, and so on, the show was clunky and silly. I sometimes regret the life choices I made as a seven year old child. But, on the other hand, the show had time travel, parallel dimensions, aliens, and, of course, dinosaurs, elements that certainly affected my creative proclivities as an adult.

Soon after college, in those “floating years”, I decided to learn how to play the fiddle, because I was entranced with Irish folk music (particularly with the bands Tempest and Golden Bough). I couldn’t afford to pay for lessons, but I did find someone who was willing to teach me in exchange for food. I took a few lessons on an instrument I rented, then ended up delivering pizzas for Pizza Hut and my schedule no longer allowed me to take the lessons. I returned the fiddle, and never played again.

But back to the ukulele. Of all the ukulele players I know of (and, I can count them on one hand) my favorite is, of course, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. And my favorite song of his is his medley of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” (the video of which I’m linking to below). Actually, I really can’t listen to this song without crying these days. That’s because I downloaded the song onto my MP3 player about six years ago, and on the day that Tangerine got sick I listened to that song over and over and over and over and over again, especially as I was driving her to the emergency vet for the last time. Even now, as I write these words, I’m starting to get a little weepy. So I’m going to wrap this up. I’ll catch up on the challenge later today.


La la la, it’s the A-Z Blogging Challenge, doo be doo.

[A-Z] S is for Short and Sweet

I got nothin’ for you tonight just because I’m tired, I have a headache, and am beset by kobolds.

So here’s a picture of Rufus, one of the kittens we’re fostering. Notice he has eyes. This picture is a couple of days old, so those eyes are wider now, and he is more exploratory. He’s gonna be a handful when he gets older.


This brief entry brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

[A-Z] O is for Otherworldly Stuff

nessieThere probably isn’t a huge snakelike plesiosaur hanging out under the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland (though when I visited there in 2001, that didn’t stop me from looking carefully for Nessie). And there probably isn’t a giant ape-like critter lurking in the northern woods, leaving giant footprints in its wake. The Dover Demon was probably a monkey or something like that, and I’m reasonably sure the chupacabra corpses that have been found were simply dead coyotes with mange.

But my cynicism goes even further: I’m pretty sure we’re not being visited by alien creatures in UFOs, and I’m pretty darn skeptical about ghosts.

But I’m still interested in these things. I have several thick books about ghosts, a few about cryptozoology, and many about myths and folklore and even a dictionary of superstitions. In the 90s, I was interested in conspiracy theories, though only academically: I was interested in the mindset that would lead people to believe that, say, JFK was assassinated by the Zeta Reticulans because he was about to reveal the truth of Majestic-12, for example.

I was a big believer when I was a kid. My parents bought me books like Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken, and I pretty much ate them up. I was particularly enamored with the Bermuda Triangle… That is, until I read a book called The Bermuda Triangle Solved or something like that. It laid out in a very logical fashion the history of the Bermuda Triangle, and debunked all of the paranormal theories behind it. Time warp? Debunked. Alien abductions? Debunked. The truth is, there are actually no more disappearances or vanishings in the Bermuda Triangle than there are over any other comparable area of the ocean.

So while I am skeptical about just about everything paranormal and otherworldly, I am still fascinated by the ideas. I’ve written stories about ghosts and Bigfoot and giant squid and other cryptids.

Sometimes I do wish there was a bit more to the world than what can be measured with our existing senses, but then I start thinking about the sort of thing I wrote in my last entry, and realize the world around us is pretty damn spiffy as it is.

(Of course, I’m also an Episcopalian. More about that later.)

This out-of-the-world post brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

[A-Z] Z is for Zoology Etc.

Animal_diversityWhen I first started college at UC Davis, my plan was actually not to study Philosophy or English or any of the liberal arts at all. I’d done so well in my science classes in high school (particularly AP Biology) that I originally planned on going into medicine, with a focus on Biomechanical Engineering, whatever that meant at the time.

But, as usually happens with freshmen in college, I ended up changing majors. First, I went in as a Biological Sciences major. Then I decided that Marine Biology was really neat, so I switched to that. Then I was going to double major in English and Zoology, theorizing that I could do science in the days and write science fiction at night (“I could make up realistic sounding aliens, and then write about them!” is what I told people). Then I really wanted to be a veterinarian, so I switched over to animal physiology.

Then came my sophomore year, and I was a bit more realistic about what I could achieve in college. Mathematics had always been my downfall in high school, and I was no better off in college, where Calculus just about killed me. And so did Chemistry. Ugh. I ended up taking Statistics twice, and did worse the second time around than the first. But I did fantastic in the biology courses and physics courses that I took. I got a B+ in Physiology 110, which many students agreed was one of the hardest undergraduate courses at UC Davis. Emboldened, I took another swing at Chemistry, only to fail again. Double ugh.

Then I took a course in the philosophy of the biological sciences, and it was like I’d found my true calling. I was one of the only students in that class who understood the material and what was going on. The professor (actually a professor of population genetics who happened to dabble in philosophy) was impressed by me as well. Just at the end of that quarter I officially changed my major to philosophy.

My memory’s a bit sketchy here, but, as I recall, to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Davis, you needed a total of 180 quarter units (each class, of course being 4 or 5 units). To get a degree in Philosophy you needed to have a minimum of 52 undergraduate units in philosophy courses. When I graduated, I had 80 units in Philosophy, and 225 units overall, the point at which the University pretty much booted you out. That meant I had over 100 units in a wide variety of other courses like Botany, the aforementioned Statistics courses, Religious Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Folklore and Mythology, History, and so on. Not enough in any one field to get a minor in any of them, let alone a double major. I just enjoyed learning about whatever tickled my fancy whenever I opened that course catalog. My major adviser called me an intellectual vagabond and a dilettante. I wasn’t sure at the time, and I’m still not sure, whether he was complimenting me or expressing his frustration.

And, ironically, I never took a course in zoology.

And when it came time to graduate, I froze in terms of what to do next. I could have gone on to graduate school in Philosophy (I had a particular propensity for the philosophy of science as well as symbolic logic and the philosophy of religion), but the notion of having to focus on one area of study for the rest of my life was grating to me. I ended up doing… nothing. Floating. Drifting. Taking on job as a barista, a clerk at a video store, a newspaper delivery driver, a pizza delivery guy, and so on. Really, it was by chance that I ended up working at the same University where I had studied, and sheer luck landed me into my current job (okay, I spent years teaching myself web programming, but you get the idea).

To this day, I still enjoy reading books on philosophy and science, and I pride myself on being able to talk intelligently on a wide number of topics, as well as being smart enough to ask questions on the topics I know nothing about. I went to library school for a little bit, on the assumption that I would be able to find in there a career that would let me be paid to be an intellectual vagabond and dilettante, but I wasn’t able to fully integrate my love of open source technology with what I was learning, so I dropped out. A silly decision which I still regret, but what the hell.

So now I get my dose of vagabonditry and dilettantism here and there, reading books, watching documentaries, visiting zoos and natural history museums, and so on, though I really don’t do any of those as much as I used to.

In a way, I still feel adrift. I like the job I’ve landed in, and I enjoy writing the stories I do, but I still wish I could have found a way to make my curiosity pay my way through life.

[A-Z] F is for Fuzz!


Our friends L and G seem to have the ability to attract stray and feral cats in the neighborhood. This is through no fault of their own; they just happen to have huge neon “SUCKER” signs attached to their heads

So while L and G went off to visit family back east a couple of weeks ago, one of the strays in the neighborhood, a chunky young she-cat that they hadn’t gotten around to naming, gave birth to six tiny kittens.

“Kittens!” Jennifer squealed at me. “They have kittens! We have to visit the kittens!” I figured this was a good idea, not just because I happen to like kittens as well, but also it would help get my mind off of Rosemary.

Then this morning L was talking to Jennifer about how fostering another six kittens would be a serious chore. Jennifer turned to me and said “It’s too bad you’re not interested in fostering kittens, you know.”

So I thought about it and realized that it might not be so bad. “Why not?” I said. “Let’s do it.”

We, too, have bright neon SUCKER signs on our foreheads.

So, basically, we have acquired seven new cats: a young mama cat (we have no idea how old she really is, and cats are notoriously reticent about giving out their age when asked) and six babies — five orange, and one tuxedo. We’ve decided to dub them the Supernatural Kitties, and name them after various characters from the show Supernatural. And hopefully tomorrow I’ll get a LiveStream account and a webcam so that we can peek in on the kittens any time we want.

Right now the kittens are incredibly young, a week or two at the most. Their ears have popped up, but their eyes have yet to open. The mama cat — Ruby — is still very protective of them. She’s also a bit shy and nervous with us, and we haven’t been able to coax her out of her box to eat or drink water or use the litter box. We’re confident, though, that she’ll come around. She’s not feral, and must have been exposed to people at some point in her life.

The other cats are somewhat perturbed by this state of affairs, but only because the new kittens are currently being kept in the spare room where we used to feed Rosie. Azzie and Rupert are still convinced that yummy wet food lies just beyond the closed door, even though Rosie isn’t in there any more.

Brand new kittens. New fuzz in the house.

Yeah. This makes me happy.

This fuzzy wuzzy blog post brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

[A-Z] P is for Picture Show (Rocky Horror)


Just yesterday I wound up listening to the soundtrack for the Rocky Horror Picture Show at work. It was pretty awesome. Although it’s been a good twenty years since I last saw that film, I still know most of the songs by heart, and can still recite the audience participation lines for them as well. Of course, I didn’t do that at my desk at work. Nor did I get up to do the Time Warp when that song came on (though a co-worker did suggest we could have a Time Warp dance mob in our conference room).

Listening to the album left me nostalgic for my high school and early college years. It was my friend Brad Sunday who introduced me and several other members of our high school science fiction club to Rocky Horror; somehow he’d acquired a VHS copy and played it during an after school meeting (bear in mind this was a Catholic high school, and it was done with a teacher’s permission). He taught us some of the audience participation lines (but not all — because Catholic high school) and when and where to throw toast and toilet paper at the screen, so that when we finally went to the real thing, we wouldn’t be unprepared.

Me, I didn’t go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show until I was in college at UC Davis, and then for awhile I really got into it. With my friends P. and T., I drove into Sacramento just about every weekend, often twice a weekend. I threw the toilet paper, I shouted the lines, I danced the Time Warp in the aisles, and I even played Eddie in the floor show one night. That was fun.

Nowadays, it’s hard to find the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Certainly it’s nowhere here in Sacramento. It might be playing regularly in some small theater in San Francisco or Berkeley, but those theaters are just hard for me to get to. I went to the Berkeley show once, about fifteen years ago, with a bunch of friends, but that’s about it. Nowadays, if I want to see it locally I have to wait until June (when the Sacramento Horror Film Festival rolls into town) or Halloween.

And perhaps that’s for the best. I’m past the age where staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning appeals to me, and, of course, that was part of the whole experience. I’m still young enough to be appalled that Fox is considering making a two-hour television version of the movie, but too old to want to go and dress up as Eddie again.

Or maybe I should go in June. Maybe I should go, just to do the Time Warp one last time.

Let’s do the A-Z Blogging Challenge again!